Author’s Note: This essay is dedicated to the memory of Angela Gold, z”l, whose neshama and harmonies blessed everyone she met.
I sing to myself. Not the “singing-in-the-shower” variety. Not the “sing-along-with-my-playlist-while-I-clean-the-apartment” variety. It’s the moment of “this-is-the-song-in-my-heart.” A song too big to hold in.
The song is always the same. Over and over. Usually under my breath, but if I think I’m alone in a staircase – which almost exclusively happens as I head to classes at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies – I might belt it out, just to hear the echo. I sing:
Here in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, I suspect that anyone who overhears knows what I’m singing: “One thing have I asked of Adonai, how I long for it, that I may dwell in the house of the Adonai all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of Adonai, and to dwell in the palace.” It’s the fourth verse of Psalm 27, the essence of the Psalm. I sing the Paul Schoenfield rendition.
This spontaneous a cappella vibrates with my faith, a paradoxical faith, at that. On one hand, I believe with a perfect faith that – at any moment, perhaps the very next one – the glory of God’s presence might just appear. Perhaps right there in the stairway, on the next landing. On the other hand, regardless of whether I see it or feel it in the moment, God is right here, right now. Yes, God is here, and I’m still seeking God’s house, knocking at the gates of mercy, seeking the throne of holiness.
This contradiction is the essence of my yearning as I sing the line: knowing that I’m already in God’s presence, and yet knowing that I only can remain there by continually seeking God.
In her forthcoming book from CCAR Press, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27, Rabbi Debra J. Robbins writes: “Sit in the house of God. It’s the one thing that I really want. But now that I’m here, what do I do?”
Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27 is a guide to using Psalm 27 to prepare for the high holidays. Every day from the second day of Elul, through Shemini Atzeret – including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot – traditional Ashkenazi prayer includes the recitation of this psalm.
With this book, Rabbi Robbins has created a guide to prepare spiritually for the Days of Awe by examining phrases from each line of the psalm each of the 50-plus-day period. Nine of the phrases she uses in this intentional spiritual practice, nearly one of every five days, come from 27:4, my walking tune.
Of the words “achat sha’alti” – “one thing I’ve asked” of God – she wonders: “If I can ask only one thing of God, what would it be?” Of the word “u’le’vaker” – “and to dwell” – she notices the connection to the word “boker,” or morning. Am I ready, aware and eager, each morning, to witness God’s presence? About the words “b’veit Adonai” – the house of God – she asks: “This is God’s house. But is God home?” We are invited to explore each phrase with a series of steps, including prayer, meditation, journaling and blessing.
Fifty days of reciting Psalm 27 as part of the High Holiday season is a practice that’s relatively new in the history of Jewish liturgy, beginning about 200 to 300 years ago. Rabbi Robbins has turned that daily recitation into an opportunity for spiritual growth before, during and just after the Days of Awe, the entire holy season from Elul to Shemi Atzeret.
For me, Rabbi Robbins has added new ways to think about – and to sing – my ‘go to’ spiritual walkabout song.
Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist and teacher. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012),L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments(CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, published by CCAR Press in 2017, and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, now available!